"Ritalin Or Recess?" Are Schools Promoting The Use Of Drugs?

CJ Westerberg, May 10, 2010 1:56 PM


Update: Check out 1/30/2012 post and comments,"If Ritalin Has 'Gone Wrong', What's the Right Way to Cope?"

"Study high, take the test high, get high scores"
                                -     NYU Student referring to Adderall via The Daily Beast

 "Activity Bursts In The Classroom" Video Below

by C.J.Westerberg

One of my friends, a NYC private school parent, called Ritalin "this generation's penicillin". 
He questioned "When did educators become medical professionals . . . recommending Ritalin to kids?"  and continued on about  how prevalent its use was in private school circles.  Teachers certainly don't "prescribe drugs" but we do know there has been a quick-fix mentality within many schools to remedy numerous issues through the use of prescription drugs, from the highest echelons of private schools to the most dis-advantaged. There is an astonishing number of disadvantaged children taking Ritalin and other "calming/focusing" drugs. 

Standing at a school event the other day, I overheard two moms talking about how the adjustment of their sons' Ritalin dosage really worked, making their lives "so much easier."

A third friend told me how her second grader was recommended by the private school teacher  to have her son consult a doctor for tests and recommendations for the son's "issues".   The parent asked if and how her son was distracting the class or what exactly the problem was in question.   The teacher responded that her son "was not disruptive to the class but had to go to the back of the class from time to time to stretch, unlike the other kids." 

On the other hand, I hear from parents who share their conflicted opinions about whether they are right to give their children medication "only" because they are just not fitting in to the school structure.  Other parents confidently say that ADHD drugs are an absolute necessity to alter behavior at school and at home.

The Daily Beast reports on Adderall as the "study drug" in prestigious universities, reaching a "high water mark" during exams.

A recent The Huffington Post story caught our eye recently, as it connected the continued cut-backs of exercise and recess in our schools, while providing a solution that may help, without incorporating major changes in a school's system.   While there is widespread agreement that there are students who are helped tremendously by prescription drugs due to health conditions, the question at hand is the increased and record level of acceptance of drugs as a usual and first course of action, without other adjustments made to students' day, either individually or collectively. 

Contributed by David Katz  M.D., "internationally renowned authority on nutrition",  the following are excerpts from this recent post:

"On April 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a media conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce the release of a new report on school-based physical activity and its association with academic performance.

The report -- a review of 50 studies published in 43 articles -- reached a conclusion that is no great surprise to those of us who know kids well (I have five), and work to promote their health (both physical, and intellectual). Physical activity is good for body and brain, alike. . . .

The fundamental findings of CDC's 129-page report were that diverse interventions for kids of various ages produced a net improvement in academic performance more often than not. Over 50 percent of the studies analyzed improved some measure of cognition or academics. An additional 48 percent of the interventions contributed to fitness and health without compromising academics. . . ."

 ". . . The mind and body are genuinely connected, and the soundness of one redounds to the other."

"Just consider that rates of behavioral disorders in childhood -- attention deficit disorder in particular -- are at an all-time, unprecedented high. How do we account for that? Certainly, there has been no radical shift in the genes that oversee the construction of children in the last generation. Children are much the same as they ever were. Their typical day is as it never was before.

Children used to play outside. They used to have physical education and recess during the school day. More and more, we take naturally rambunctious children, send them to schools from which recess and Phys Ed have been all but banished, bolt them to chairs all day long, and then watch them grow into adults we can't get off couches with crowbars! And, alas, along the way we medicate more and more of them for attention disorders. Could it be that WE are the ones who have not been paying sufficient attention to the natural, healthy restlessness of children?"

 Katz shares his story about his own son and his moment of clarity:

"Some years ago, when my son, Gabriel, was five, he joined the rest of my family in attending an evening talk I gave at Dartmouth. Whereas my daughters, all older than Gabe, were able to sit attentively as my talk began, Gabe was fidgeting out of his seat and tormenting his poor mother within minutes.

The story that ensued -- one I have told many times -- is that I interrupted my talk to intervene on my wife's behalf. I asked Gabe to run a lap around the large auditorium in which I was speaking. He did, completed it, then popped up from his seat and took off for another. As he came around at the end of lap two and kept on going, three other kids took off after him. When the four of them came around and kept going, several dozen children joined in!

As the ruckus played out, I noted to my audience that what we were observing was more important than anything I might be saying. I presumed all of the kids running laps around us were healthy. My son, certainly, was healthy -- although, lord knows, if you were cooped up with him at that age for any length of time you'd be tempted to medicate either him or yourself! But he was, and is, healthy. Rambunctiousness in children is normal.

And it should be treated with recess, not Ritalin! Gabriel had shown me how.

The result of Gabe's fidgety disruption was a program called ABC for Fitness (Activity Bursts in the Classroom), ultimately crafted not only by my research staff, but by experts in physical education, notably Marvin Christley with the New Haven, CT, Public Schools, and experts in education from the CT Department of Education. The program, available to all for free, Link here, (ed.note)  not only allows for intermittent bursts of activity throughout the day whenever kids 'need' one, but matches aerobic routines to grade level and subject matter. Teaching time actually goes up!"

In this country, we admire and strive to develop self-control, focus and delayed gratification as life skills in our children.  Yet, if we are to develop these skills, we also need to be providing the environment and conditions for those skills to flourish.  You can't expect an athlete to perform well without proper nutrition.  How can we expect our childrens' brains to function without the proper nourishment it receives from exercise?  (For more on the exercise/brain connection, see
The Daily Riff's The Grown-Up Brain: Better Than The Younger Version?).

I'm not a doctor.  To what extent ADD or ADHD exists is the question for the medical profession.  Yet the number of prescription-drug-ingesting youth has got to get educators
thinking differently and start making changes - in attitude, schedules, and the way the school
system works on a daily basis.  Something is just not right.  

Check out Katz's "Activity Bursts In The Classroom" program in video below:


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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
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